The Reparations Movement Gains Momentum…

South American and Caribbean countries affected by the trans-atlantic slave trade and coloisation have continued cooperation on the issue of reparatory justice. The following is a copy of a presentation the Chairman of the Saint Lucian NRC made at a recently held international workshop for the movement. Happy Reading!!!

 

Forming a National Reparations Commission    – Experiences from the Global Movement

Presentation by Earl Bousquet, Chairman of the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC) to the international workshop ‘From Reparations in Transitional Justice to Historic Reparations for the Afro-descendant People of Colombia, March 21-23, 2017 in Cali, Colombia

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VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY

Voyages of discovery are always the essential first step in any direction towards finding our roots and this stands equally true in our quests for Reparations.

In my previous travels by sea and air to various ports and cities in South America, whenever I saw people of African descent I always wondered how they got there.

Where I come from – in the English-speaking Caribbean, the former British West Indies — we heard there was Slavery in Brazil and Cuba. We also had/have lots of relatives (who we never saw or met) in Panama, where they went to build the Canal. But never heard of Black slave descendants in Colombia, or Chile, or Mexico, even Venezuela.

My last such experience in Chile in November 2016, inspired an article in which I expressed regret that there was no place in Santiago I could have gone to find and/or see a history of ‘Blacks in Chile’. But then, what I found was that Blacks were not even mentioned as a race or ethnic group in the official demography statistics.

I got the same feeling a few years ago when I first visited Colombia. On a visit to a hospital in Bucaramanga, the first and only Black person I saw was an old lady selling candied condiments on a sidewalk. Her display of home-made coconut and peanut-based candied condiments reminded me of other elder ladies like her selling exactly the same products at home, outside schools and cinemas, in similarly-shaped trays.

I left the visiting group of fellow Saint Lucians walked over to purchase some of the sugared fare, not just to eat and share, but also to take back home to show that “geggesh” (as we loosely call it) is also made the same way in Colombia.

Time wasn’t on my side, so I couldn’t ask the smiling lady where her people came from.

My limited awareness of the African presence in South America comes from a seminal book entitles They Came Before Columbus. It was written by Guyanese novelist Ivan Van Sertima as far back as 1976 and tells the whole story of how Africans came to this part of the world before Columbus first set eyes in 1492 on what he thought was a western part of India, which the Europeans eventually named the ‘West Indies’.

Three years earlier, the celebrated Uruguayan journalist Edward Galleano had in 1973 penned Open Veins of Latin America, in which he covered ‘five centuries of the pillage of a continent’.

Between these two texts we will find all we need to know about how we came to be whom, what and where we are, why, when and how.

CARICOM’S QUEST

Reparations have been paid and made in several parts of the world and are still being sought and/or demanded in others. And in still many other cases, the cases are only just being made.

The Reparations issues vary, but in all instances they are the same: humans seeking apology and atonement for inhuman treatment and historical wrongs that never saw justice.

In 2013, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) became the first group of nations in any region or part of the world to pursue Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide.

It is important to note that this is the first time that a group of governments of independent nations has made or is making a case for Reparations against another group of states, the European Union (EU), whose member-states devised, imposed and benefitted their wealth through Slavery, undoubtedly the worst crime against humanity ever.

Before that too, genocidal terror was used to virtually exterminate the original indigenous Amerindians they met in these islands and continental territories they claimed to have ‘discovered’.

The Caribbean having agreed to invite the EU to dialogue on an approach to Reparations — failing which CARICOM can also go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) — a CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) and a Sub-committee of Heads Responsible for Reparations were established and each member-state was invited to also establish a National Reparations Committee (NRC).

The role of each NRC is to assist the Government to implement CARICOM’s decisions in each territory and to work at the regional level, with and through the Commission, with each NRC Chairman being a member of the Commission.

ABOUT US

The Saint Lucia NRC was appointed by the Prime Minister in November 2013, with an indefinite term.

It comprises nine members, representing organizations and appointed in their individual capacities.

The NRC operates autonomously, but reports to the Prime Minister through the Department of Regional Integration and Diaspora Affairs, headed by the Saint Lucia Ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS.

Our first three years have been bitter and sweet: We have never received government funding, but our work is both continuing and expanding.

We spent our first year (2014) learning the ropes an establishing the national and regional base for future work.

In our second year (2015), we consolidated our national base and worked quietly to broaden our reach, issuing press releases, participating in related activities and co-hosting activities with member-organizations.

Our third year (2016) was our best so far, starting with the launching of our Facebook page and planning for a major one-night event in the middle August to observe a series of Emancipation and Reparations-related anniversaries.

On August 17, to coincide with the birth anniversary of Marcus Garvey, we hosted a Colloquy on Slavery and Emancipation, Marcus Garvey, Reparations and the U.N. Decade for People of African Descent.

That event, which was broadcast live on radio and TV across the region and streamed through the Internet, also featured the launching of a year-long Reparations Lecture Series and the new two-month-old Government of Saint Lucia reaffirmed its commitment to observance of the Decade for People of African Descent in Saint Lucia.

Also in the second half of 2016, with permission from the Ministry of Education, the NRC launched a series of Reparations Lectures at the island’s 24 Secondary Schools and a series of community-based lectures. The school lectures are also resulting in growing student interest in not only Slavery and Reparations, but also the UN Decade for People of African Descent.

In October, the NRC hosted a CARICOM Reparations Youth Rally and a CARICOM Reparations Baton Relay, both of which were also broadcast live, with participation of the two Saint Lucia CARICOM Youth Ambassadors and support from CARICOM’s Program Director for Regional Integration and Community Relations and a Communications team from the Secretariat.

The CARICOM Coordinators for Reparations and Youth also attended and the Saint Lucia experiences allowed the CARICOM Secretariat and the CRC to have extracted notes for a ‘Handbook’ for Rallies, Relays and Youth Forums.

We have started 2017 on a good footing.

A generous young Saint Lucian writer has produced a Children’s storybook on Reparations and donated it to the NRC as a free contribution to the cause and we plan to launch it publicly soon.

Also on our 2017 Plan of Action are: hosting an African Liberation Day activity for May 25-26, a Youth Forum on Reparations, activities for the UN Decade, continuation of our schools and community lectures, launching our own website and linking-up with the CRC and CARICOM Websites, establishment of a Calendar of Significant Dates, a 2017 Colloquy, observing Creole Heritage Month (October), strengthening communication, cooperation and coordination with the CRC and fellow NRCs and reaching out to other Reparations causes and movements.

We also started 2017 on a note of cautious optimism, with the new Prime Minister having assured that he will not only maintain the same composition of the NRC, but also make an allocation in the 2017-2018 national budget for it.

Another breeze of optimism also came from the President of the Senate, who attended the 2016 Colloquy with the Acting Governor General, the Acting Prime Minister (and Education Minister), along with members of the diplomatic corps. He has invited the NRC to address parliamentarians on the issue of CARICOM’s quest for Reparations.

Participation in this conference in Colombia is another hallmark for us this year.

LESSONS TO SHARE

How did the Saint Lucia NRC get to where we’re at and what experiences can we share? To answer, I have applied a formula I always use as a journalist, by asking five questions using what I call The 5W+1 Formula.

The five questions are: Who? What? When? Why? Where?

And then comes the next big question: How?

No full story can be told that doesn’t answer these six questions. The answer to the last question (How) is the essence of what we will do. But to decide How, we have to ask and answer two more questions: What is to be Done? and Where to Begin?

I will try to answer the above questions briefly and hope they will generate the questions, comments or observations we look forward to in exchanges like these.

Who are we?

We are rebels with a cause, heirs and successors of early African mariners shipwrecked a world away from home and descendants of Africans kidnapped centuries later and sold into Slavery in this same part of the world.

What do we want?

We want Acknowledgement, Apology and Atonement. CARICOM is seeking Reparatory Justice through a formula that accepts history and allows for an agreed approach to atonement. The Heads of Government and the Commission have identified Six Conditions across the Caribbean today that are direct consequences of slavery and Ten Points for pursuit of Reparatory Justice. This uniform approach applies to each country and all NRCs have the similar objective: to pursue all that needs be done to ensure that the people we speak for do understand what we want and why.

When do we want it?

History and time are on our side, but it is not we/us who will decide when and how the Europeans will listen and act. However, Reparations have been on the Caribbean agenda as far back as 1897, when Saint Lucia-born surveyor John Quinlan addressed Queen Victoria’s Royal Commission on Apartheid on behalf of the Pan African Congress (PAC). Marcus Garvey later carried the Repatriation and Reparations flags, both of which were later also kept flying by the Rastafarian community in Jamaica — and then across the region. Now is another peak moment, with over a dozen Caribbean governments representing majority Afro Caribbean nations, taking the battle to the next and highest possible stage: making the Reparations case, presenting it and seeking atonement. Reparatory Justice is not just long overdue, but also always important to achieve at the earliest. The call therefore always has to be for ‘Reparations Now!’

Why do we want it?

Because Reparations are long overdue! Our ancestors resisted Slavery from the day they were kidnapped in Africa, all along the way to the Caribbean, throughout their long years on the plantations and until their resistance led to so-called Emancipation and Abolition of Slavery. But 50 years after Abolition, Quinlan and the PAC were complaining to the Queen that the former slaves were no better off — and in the absence of real freedom, most wanted atonement or would rather be sent to Africa. The atonement we seek is not compensation for broken contracts, but payment of wages of sin. We are not seeking to collect cheques at the national treasury at the end of every month as our ‘grandfather’s back pay’. . Instead, we are seeking the kind of atonement that will address past ills and open the way for us to start to better navigate our future. The heirs and successors of the slave masters on both sides of the Atlantic bequeathed the benefits of slavery to their kith and kin, while the poverty and wretchedness piled on the backs of our ancestors have been inherited by us over succeeding generations. The mortal sinners left no Last Wills and Testaments to atone for their wicked ways, which is why the descendants of those they wronged must do all we can, to seek and get that atonement. Slavery in its time built the British Empire and the European colonial state; in these times, it is the duty of governments elected by the descendants of African slaves to engage the European governments that have inherited the eternal debt for Slavery.

Where do we want it?

We want Reparations everywhere it applies: across the Caribbean and The Americas (North, Central and South) — everywhere Slavery touched in this part of our world. CARICOM is pursuing Reparations from Britain, France and EU member-states for ‘Slavery and Native Genocide’ — not only for the trade in humans and its effects, but also for the earlier European genocide to exterminate the native populations they met. As the Reparations cause takes different shapes over time in different places, we want Reparations too for affected African descendants in Colombia, as well as in Brazil, Chile and other South American nations. We also want Reparations for African Americans in the USA – and indeed all over The Americas, because Black Lives Do Matter everywhere!

How to build a NRC?

That’s the big question before us: how to form and build a National Reparations Committee or Commission. The name doesn’t matter as much as what it is — and what it does. But any NRC has to not only introduce and win people over to the cause, but also let them know how we can win this battle. Success has eluded all our predecessors, so the question of ‘How’ is fundamental if we are to convince ourselves, first and foremost, that we are not just serious, but we also have workable plans, the success of which will determine if and when Reparations will come.

The CARICOM plan is being implemented at the national levels by the NRCs. But it is tailored for our region because of our specificities – the most important being that our quest is being led by Governments of majority Black populations and nations.

It’s a different scenario in minority-Black USA, where the Reparations cause is also for Slavery, but also with its own particular national characteristics — including a hostile majority and a hostile state. It’s also different in South America, where no government has had pay Reparations to African descendants for Slavery.

The narrative for this conference also mentions the need to look at reparations not just for Slavery, but also for Colonialism and post-colonial Institutional Racism. Here too, the goal and objective identified will determine the ‘How’. But in general, there are certain methods that are also universal.

And now to the two final questions…

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

In the absence of government support or in the presence of a hostile state, like minds in Colombia will have to link and gather to discuss the answers to each of the first 5Ws (Who, What, When, Why and Where) to arrive at the conclusions to determine where to begin. Here we offer six elements for consideration.

  • PLOT THE PLAN: The answers to these questions are available, so they need to be gathered and tabled by and among those who will lead the way for Reparations for Colombians of African descent.
  • BE READY FOR THE FIGHT: It will be a tough and thankless battle at the very start. There will be financial and logistical challenges. Not every plan will work. There will be times when we will ask ourselves: “Will Reparations ever come?” At these times, we will have to redouble our commitment and recall that those who led the slave revolts or organized the secret freedom passages were not paid. This is a continuing phase of an ongoing struggle and it’s not a job to be paid for or an activity to expect reward. Our just reward will be the ultimate achievement of our goal.
  • GATHER THE RESOURCES: Each Reparations cause has its own story that must be sought and learned, told and shared. It is for us all to share our different stories, but also for each of us to do the necessary ongoing research to record and share existing historical accounts. We must also use the ‘Oral History’ recorded in the minds of the elders among us, which is not necessarily written, but always verifiable. The Research and Documentation aspect of our work is ongoing and never stops, so enough has to be done to ensure its continuity by putting it in capable hands and everyone feeding into it.
  • MAKE THE CASE: Every Reparations cause has its case or cases, depending on what is/are being sought. Making the legal case is essential, not only for a court of law, but also to convince those who still harbor doubts. More than just the Doubting Thomases, we also have to contend with those who will tell us we are fighting a losing battle, that we cannot force children to pay for their parents’ sins, that the UK and/or the US has given back enough by way of aid and ‘affirmative actions’ in favour of minorities, or that we are simply looking to unreasonably fleece or scheme the UK, Europe and the USA to pay debts they did not incur, or because slavery was legal at the time. The legal case(s) must be made in each case and a good start will be to study the several successful Reparations cases historically, including the Jews compensated for Hitler’s Holocaust, the Kenyan Mau Mau tribesmen compensated for British anti-independence atrocities and the Japanese locked-up by the USA during World War II.
  • CELEBRATE AND COMMEMORATE: Dates of related national significance must be noted and observed, both traditional and new, international and regional. They can then fit into annual anniversary activities that will help the cause – from African Liberation and Emancipation days to observances of the birth anniversary of Marcus Garvey and other such historical personalities of the global reparations cause.
  • FACE UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS: The sons and daughters of the heirs and successors of the slave masters in Europe and the Caribbean are naturally afraid that our Reparations demands will not only expose them but lead to them being asked to also atone. Just as there will be people of African descent today who will not support Reparations demands, there will also be those among the inheritors of the spoils of slavery who will consider it in their interest to listen to what we have to say about where they and their inheritances stand in our vision of things. This dialogue is critical where possible and each NRC should find the requisite way to handle it. The discussion must also include the fact that in the CARICOM case, today’s representatives of yesteryear’s slave-owning class are also born-and-bred citizens of the same land. It is in this regard that the Saint Lucia NRC says ‘Reparations is for the benefit of us all!’ because Africans are in the vast majority — and hold political (voting) and state power.

WHERE TO BEGIN?

All the above – and much more — done, then the following five actions can lead to the formation and eventual launching of a NRC:

  • PLOT AN ACTION PLAN: A Plan of Action should be crafted to spread the word among those who will support and be part of the movement and those who it is aimed for and at: in this case ‘the Afro-descendant people in Colombia’.
  • BULD ALLIANCES: Build alliances among and between the affected and the interested to implement the Plan – youth, women, teachers and students, cultural organizations, historical societies, archaeological groups, journalists, authors, writers and artists, etc. These alliances are important to build the platforms from which the movement will take off.
  • SPREAD THE WORD: Communicate the Reparations Message through old and new media, utilizing all available means – traditional and mainstream, ITC and New Media avenues, as well as through traditional cultural communications means that have survived over time and are still effective among the people to be reached. It will be very useful, for example, for NRCs to have dedicated columns in local and national mainstream and online newspapers, fed by sympathetic columnists. Similarly, the young and the Internet-minded can post information into the clouds in so many innovative ways that will also attract the youth, who are absolutely necessary in and to this cause.
  • TARGET SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES: Targeting schools and working with teachers and students, then entering the communities the students come from, is a sure start anywhere as these are inquiring and receptive minds with all the questions we need to answer. The students will want to know why they never learned these things at school, but the older generation in the communities will want to know if Reparations will be realized during their lifetime.
  • BUILD AND MAINTAIN LINKAGES: The Reparations struggle is alive everywhere it has been given life and it will be necessary for each cause to be linked with others to build the connectivity across seas, skies and borders that will be necessary to sustain the Reparations Movement globally. This conference is a perfect start for the connection between the CARICOM Reparations Movement and that of Colombia, as well as every other movement and cause represented here. CARICOM has also shared its template with the US Congressional Black Caucus and those preparing to launch the US Reparations case in Washington. The African Union and the Pan African Congress, as well as individual African states, have also been showing increased interest in the Caribbean’s Reparations cause. The relevant United Nations (UN) sub-committees, as well as the Caribbean and Latin American groupings (CELAC, ALBA and PetroCaribe, etc.) all support the CARICOM Reparations Cause. Through the CARICOM Commission and the NRCs, the added entities identified and/or represented here will be able to share equal access to and maintain linkages with the global movement.

CONCLUSION

This is by no means a perfect blueprint or a TO DO List for establishment of a NRC. But we hope these few experiences shared will sufficiently encourage our Colombian brothers and sisters, first and foremost, to continue with the first moves they have started that led to this conference.

We are here celebrating the launching of one more front in the ongoing global battle for Reparations everywhere. It is now for us to ensure that our movement fires on all pistons as we engineer our way today to achieve what eluded our forebears forever, but which, for the very first time, is within visible reach.

Reparations are possible tomorrow, but only if we select the proper targets, aim well and shoot straight.

Our demands have to be well-founded and well-presented, primarily to our people, but just as important to those from whom we ask for and expect Reparatory Justice.

Consistency yields positive results and keeping Reparations on the national, regional, continental and global agendas for discussion and action does yield positive progress, as has been the CARICOM experience.

Here’s to a great future of cooperation between us all in the common fight for Reparations in each case — and as the ultimate global objective.

Thanks for your patience!

The Dress Code Saga

Last week the Government of Saint Lucia put out a press release stating that a dress code would be implemented for all visitors to the Greaham Louisy Administrative Building with immediate effect. Tank tops, spaghetti straps, shorts,crop tops, durags and bandanas are amongst the items of clothing which are now banned under this new policy.

The first question that came to mind on hearing this news is who is the authority who will make the widely subjective decision on whether pants are too short, straps are too narrow or dresses fall too high above the knee? Secondly, does the govt have any legal authority to enforce such regulations in a public building? Of course not! The Government of Saint Lucia is in fact acting in contradiction to their international human rights obligations. Saint Lucian citizens have a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. We also have a right to access public service in this Country.

It is my reasoned opinion that this new policy glaringly contains gendered requirements and is disproportionately discriminatory towards women. This sexist dress code is probably the brain child of a religious fanatic, a prejudiced John or a judgemental Judy who believes that women should hide their “temples” under cloaks. It is absolutely outrageous that a government would perpetuate discrimination against women, as well as the rampant rape culture which exists in Saint Lucia. A woman does not need to cover her arms or legs to command respect from anyone!

There are indeed places in which a dress code is both appropriate and effective. For example, it is easier to identify personnel such as firemen and policemen in times of emergency if they are in uniform. It is definitely NOT appropriate to put a dress code in place for visitors to public buildings. The majority of these visitors are the very tax payers who fund government business, and they are more than likely trying to access essential public services.

 Saint Lucians come from all walks of life – we all have different jobs, social status, genders,etc. Public spaces are for us ALL and policies relating to those places should always be as inclusive as possible. What about the person who ties a bandana around their head before entering the Greaham Louisy Administrative Building because the air condition affects their sinuses? What about the person who is not fortunate enough to have a wardrobe full of clothes from which to pick out something “appropriate”? This dress code sets a dangerous precedent that only a certain type of person is welcome at state offices. Even more confusing is that the new policy only applies to the administrative building which houses the office of the Prime Minister. Has our new PM decided that he will only attend to a specific type of visitor? Who made the ultimate decision to implement this dress code?

Today we must change our clothes, tomorrow we must cover our hair, the day after must restrict our speech. If we don’t stand for something we will fall for anything. Self Respect, decency, appropriateness are all incredibly subjective and should be left to the member of the public to measure for themselves. There is absolutely no reason for a government to police the attire of members of the public who are visiting a public building. I am calling on the Government of Saint Lucia to retract its statement and reverse this discriminatory policy…with immediate effect!

Emancipation Day- Remembering Toussaint Louverture, Suzane Belair, Flore Bois Gaillard and Louis Delgres.

Today we celebrate Emancipation Day- the day African slaves and slaves of African descent in the English speaking Caribbean attained freedom from slavery. Too many times the history written conveys the idea that freedom was granted to those slaves by the British and ignores how active our ancestors were in the freedom process. They fought for freedom, died for freedom and most of all they TOOK their freedom! My dream is for our education system to evolve so that our children are taught about these freedom fighters. Every slave who fought in defiance of the system of slavery contributed to getting us where we are today and we must never ever forget. I thought I would share the synopsis of the stories of a few of our ancestors on my blog and I hope that we will all take some time to remember the ancestors today. There are millions of stories which remain untold but we owe them our utmost gratitude. Happy reading and Happy Emancipation Day!

  1. Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint was born a slave to a father who is widely rumored to have been an African prince captured into slavery. He was well read and spoke multiple languages. Toussaint is widely referred to as the father of the Haitian Revolution. He used his military prowess to help organise the slave rebellions which set the foundation for Haiti to become the first ever free black colony in the West. He was captured by the French and died in prison in France only months before Haiti declared its independence under the leadership of those he had trained.

2. Suzane Belair

Suzane Belair was born a free person of colour and became a freedom fighter. She rose to the position of lieutenant in Toussaint’s army. She married Charles Belair who was also an officer in the army and was captured by Dessaline, another leader of the Haitian Revolution who accused them of misconduct.  Charles also gave himself up so he could be with his wife. He was sentenced to be shot as punishment and she was sentenced to be beheaded. It has been said that she requested to be shot instead (a punishment handed down to all soldiers) and that request was granted.

3.Flore Bois Gaillard

Gaillard was a black woman and little to nothing has been written about her story. Nevertheless she is remembered as one of the most infuential members of the  Brigands war in Saint Lucia. The army she led stayed hidden in the woods and was active in the burning of plantations as a strategy to affect the economic standing and strength of plantation owners. She is rumoured to have killed her  owner who had raped her while she was in captivity as his slave.

4.Louis Delgres

Delgres was born free in Martinique and had military expertise. He was the leader of the slave resistance against the reinstitution of slavery by the French in Guadeloupe. In the battle of Matouba in 1802 Delgres and his followers set their gun powder on fire in an effort to kill a large portion of the French army. They committed suicide in the process.

A Human Rights Summary of Party Manifestos

Amidst continued discriminatory platform statements and noise the UWP manifesto was launched on Tuesday, and the SLP manifesto on Wednesday. The electorate had 5 and 4 days before D-Day respectively to go through the proposals made by the two leading parties; tsk tsk! The following are some of the most prominent sections to be found within party manifestos as it relates to human rights and marginalised groups:

SLP MANIFESTO

-Consider constitutional reform.

-Plans to increase access to water for affected communities across the island.

-Improving the justice system (staff/infrastructure/reducing remand cases).

-Tackling sexual violence (education/police task force/review of law/mutil-departmental approach).

-Establishment of a sex offenders registry.

-Increase the number of play areas for children.

UWP MANIFESTO

-Constitutional reform to strengthen the rights and protections afforded to citizens.

-Repairing the juvenile justice system.

-Expansion and rearrangement of the division of human services and the social services available to vulnerable persons.

-Improving access to infrastructure and services for the differently abled.

-Foster a “gender-balanced society” (considerations made include employment, domestic violence and education).

-Expanding state services for senior citizens.

-Formulation of a new national poverty reduction strategy.

-Improving the justice system.

Some of these plans have been explained in detail and other seemed to have been placed in the manifestos as an afterthought. The way in which much of this work will be funded has not been described by either party.   While both manifestos cover the main human rights issues we have in Saint Lucian society, I am disappointed that neither of them even makes mention of the plight of the LGBT community.  However, I did feel some glimmer of hope when I heard Ernest Hilaire mention in an interview that the LGBT cause was one he would champion in cabinet if elected into office. Plans to improve gender relations cannot and must not exclude the LGBT community!!! There are other concerns such a human trafficking and the protection of indigenous culture that lie beneath the surface in Saint Lucia. An advanced human rights approach would delve into all of these matters, but all in all the manifestos have covered good ground. You can find both manifestos by clicking on the following links;

http://voteslp.com/sites/default/files/SLP%20Manifesto%202016.pdf

http://www.voteuwp.org/manifesto/

A note to everyone to vote their conscience tomorrow, please do not feel intimidated to vote either way. Please see my Facebook page for info about voter rights and election offences. Let us all respect the outcome of the elections and come together afterwards as Saint Lucians (which we are first and foremost) to continue to build our nation. Happy voting everyone!

Election Watch 2

These are the highlights of the election campaign vis a vis human rights since my last post;

-The IMPACS report on alleged extra judicial killings in Saint Lucia continues to come up on the campaign trail but, in my opinion, not from any real sense of concern or want of justice for the people. The report seems to have been reduced to some form of “political football.” It continues to be passed from one party to the next as they each attempt to blame the other for the negative fallout on international/diplomatic affairs. Somewhere along the way, pages of the concealed report were even leaked to the media. The Prime Minister accused the Leader of the UWP of having the report in his possession and warned him of the security fallout if he releases it. He highlighted the possible exposure of the identity of witnesses and informants. The UWP leader denied having the report.  Another interesting development in this regard was the interjection of the EU delegation to Barbados and the OECS in an apparent effort to push for IMPACS trials and prosecutions one last time before elections 2016/2017.

– A video was released of the Minister of Tourism Hon. Lorne Theophilus using a homophobic slur to describe the Leader of UWP during a mic check before an interview. In a surprising turn of events, the minister issued an immediate apology which featured a call for us all to be accepting of each other despite our differences. I say surprising because in the past leaders have all but ignored calls to apologise for offensive comments. We could argue that out of “Caribbean context” an apology would not suffice. There would be further calls from pressure groups and the wider society for the minister to be fired. I agree, but I also welcome the minister’s genuine apology as an example of how we should begin to address these situations in the future. Wide open space has now also been left for LGBT groups and activists to interject LGBT issues and conversations into policy dialogue. Down with the discriminatory buggery law!

-Interesting policy announcements/election promises thus far include UWP plans to increase the threshold for the child support payments stipulated by the state. The UWP also laid out plans to introduce fixed election dates and remove the queen as the head of state in Saint Lucia. Ohhhhhhhhh the day when my people will fully enjoy the right to self-determination! Speaking of which…the Governer General revealed some of the incumbent SLP’s policies in her traditional throne speech. They include the introduction of an extra judge to work on reducing the number of prisoners on remand at the Bordelais Correctional Facility. In addition, they propose the formation of a commission to review the justice system on return to office. The SLP has also promised to review the health care system and introduce universal healthcare if re-elected.

-The Prime Minister has called what some have described as snap elections. He announced that elections will be held on June 6th 2016 on Thursday 19th May 2016, leaving only 18 days before the big day. The PM may have perceived some political advantage from this move but there have also been concerns about voter disenfranchisement. Unregistered voters only had three days until a May 22nd deadline to register to vote. Of course, also in true “Caribbean context,” this is something many people wait last minute to do. Electoral offices around the island were opened throughout the weekend to facilitate new voter registration, change of address/voting constituency, change of name etc. There is also still too much confusion about who can vote, how, and with what form of identification documents. I wonder if enough time has been left for voter education on these issues.

-There are two weeks left until D-Day (literally… on the anniversary of D-Day), and I await the availability of manifestos and further plans from the two main parties as well as the LPM, Greens Party and other independent candidates. I look forward to carrying out a rights assessment on these final policy statements and sharing it with readers. My final word on this post will be to register my utmost disappointment with the underrepresentation of gender diversity when I look at the candidate roster for both of the leading parties. Sigh!

Carnival is woman. What if women refused to show up for carnival?

Feminist Conversations on Caribbean Life

I have written previously about being a 16-year-old girl at a school fair when a grown-ass man burnt me with his cigarette because I refused to dance with him.

I my teens I watched the colour drain from a friend’s face as we walked along Spring Garden in the thick Kadooment Day crowd. A man had sexually assaulted her as he casually walked by.

In my early twenties I was stung on the buttocks multiple time by a popular-for-the-season calypsonian in full view of security who only told him to “cool out” after I pleaded with them to do something.

Security at fetes is meant to keep men safe.  Security guards will break up fights between men.  I’m yet to see them intervene when women are being obviously harassed or assaulted.

There is a video of a fat, black Caribbean woman being sexually assaulted and stripped by a group of men…

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Child Marriage- Guyana Case Study

 

 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as a person below the age of 18. Therefore, child marriage exists if a person enters into formal marriage or any similar unofficial union before the age of 18. The CRC, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights all contain provisions that prohibit the practice of child marriage. Although both sexes enter into such unions, UNICEF has declared that girls are the overwhelming victims of child marriage; only 18% of persons entering marriage before the age of 18 are boys. Religious and cultural practices, poverty and the lack of education have been widely linked to higher rates of child marriage amongst girls. Child brides are more likely to experience domestic violence and drop out of formal education. The risk of dying from child birth is also especially high for very young girls. The fact that many are forced to marry older men is thought to also put them at greater risk of contracting HIV.

It has been estimated that as many as a third of all the girls around the world get married before the age of 18. UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children 2016” report can help us grasp the reality of child marriage from a regional standpoint. This report states that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12% of 20-24 year old girls were married before the age of 15, and 40% before the age of 18.  In the Middle East and North Africa the corresponding figures were reported as 3% and 18%. In East Asia and the Pacific; 2% and 16%. In South Asia; 17% and 45%. In Latin America and the Caribbean; 7% and 29%. Surprising right?  In fact, Latin America and the Caribbean has been singled out as the only region in the world where there has been no significant decline in the practice of child marriage.

In 2013 UNICEF reported that as many as 75% of girls 20-24 years old in Niger were married before the age of 18. The corresponding figures for Bangladesh, South Sudan and the Dominican Republic were 66%, 52% and 41% respectively. In the Caribbean basin, the equivalent figures for Haiti, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad were 30%, 23%, 9% and 8%.

THE GUYANA CASE STUDY

  • In 2006 the Guyana Bureau of Statistics produced a report/survey together with UNICEF which established the following;

– 28% of Amerindians women between 15-19 were in a marriage or similar union at the time the research was carried out. 21% of East Indian women and 5% of African women in the same age group were married. This suggests that child marriage amid girls in Guyana is strongly correlated to religious and cultural traditions.

-Child marriage is most prevalent among the poorest 40% of households, rural communities, and those girls who only had a primary school education.

-Child brides are more likely than older women to be married to men who are 5-9 years older.

  •  Another important factor to consider is that 16/17 year olds in Guyana can get married with parental consent. The legal age of consent for sexual activity was raised from 13 to 16 in 2005.

  • What steps should be taken to tackle this problem?

-Guyana is a signatory to the CRC and should bring all national legislation in line with the provisions of the convention. No person under the age of 18 should be permitted to get married or be able to give legal consent to sexual activity. Of course, laws and strong penalties alone cannot curb this practice. Such provisions must be backed up by vigorous law enforcement. Police, the judiciary, social workers and other social players need extensive training on how to investigate, prevent, remedy and prosecute such cases effectively. Guyana needs to focus on active policing and involvement in rural and tribal societies where child marriages are most likely to take place. Effective prosecution of adult husbands for statutory rape can serve as a deterrent for marrying underage girls.

-The state needs to expand the amount of support services available to girls in rural communities. These girls can especially be empowered through education. There needs to be a push to offer scholarships and other opportunities that will keep these girls in school long term, and encourage them to consider an alternative lifestyle. Parents and community leaders should also be involved in the education process in order to effect a cultural shift in attitudes towards child marriage.

-A holistic approach will also require the state to provide social services that reach out to young women who are former child brides. This can help prevent them from falling into the social traps they are most predisposed to e.g. poverty and domestic violence. For example, the state can provide night school programmes which allow former child brides to finish their education. Family planning education and resources can also prevent premature child rearing among young girls.

  • In 2014 CARICOM formulated a plan which aims to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in the region by 20% between by 2019. This may also have a consequential positive effect on the situation of child brides in Guyana. However, there is still much to be desired from Guyana’s regional partners. I would like to see CARICOM in particular take on a stronger human rights mandate. If scarce resources are utilised competently, then those human right abuses which affect the most vulnerable across the region can be better and directly confronted.

Election Watch 1

It’s been a while since I updated my blog. I have opted to share interesting stories and my personal opinions on human rights issues via the social media pages I set up for this blog. I recently used Facebook to comment on what I considered one-off discriminatory statements made by a politician against a colleague. However, I have come to the realisation that important human rights discussions are bound to take place on many levels during this election season; whether it be platform promises, party policies, or political blunders. There is much value in blogging about the human rights issues that come up, as well as the corresponding reactions or responses. This coalition of blog posts would be a good measure of how the importance of, and sensitivity to these topics change overtime and between general elections.  Rights Watch? The Brigands Blog- Election Watch? I’ll figure the title out later, but you catch my drift!

What has stood out to me lately is the irresponsibility with which we Saint Lucians allow our leaders to speak and act, especially during the silly season. There seems to be little to no ethical standards set for politicians. The prejudiced statements made by Philip J. Pierre against Dominic Fedee on a political platform were met with the usual excuses from SLP apologists. This suggests that for many, our defence of and respect for human rights is not absolute. Does it depend on the intensity of the infringement, the identity of the infringer, or even the political party under which they operate? See my previous comments on the matter below;

Honorable? Philip J. Pierre

Human Rights should be so respected and guarded in this land, that any statement or action which devalues them gets immediately reprimanded and revoked. Perhaps Philip J. Pierre’s reference to Dominic Fedee’s height and Guyanese nationality may be deemed a simple slip of tongue, but it was definitely not “a simple statement of fact.” To suggest the latter is highly disingenuous! Mr. Pierre used his words as a basis upon which to criticise Mr. Fedee and that was not only in poor taste, it was offensive. This situation is no different from the xenophobic use of the word “foreigner” in the UK, or racist use of the words “boy” or “negro” throughout our history as black people. All these words can be seen to be “factual” descriptions of the people at which they are aimed, but have been widely used in a derogatory fashion. Mr. Pierre you have not accepted your criticism with a broad shoulder, you have faced them only with your ego. Please act swiftly to move away from your discriminatory statement and raise your level of representation. Do the honourable thing… apologise!

 Yesterday Mr. Stanley Felix, Minister of Housing and candidate for the Central Castries Constituency in the next general elections, posted a controversial picture to his Facebook page. Two young women are photographed from the back in that picture and they are both wearing miniskirts with the slogan “Calm and let Stanley Handle It” printed across the back. Some have reported that the young ladies designed the skirts out of a campaign t-shirt that carried the slogan. The minister posted the picture with the following caption “Just had to shake my head. Central girls are creative indeed.” The picture drew questions about what exactly the minister could handle and whether he could really handle it. It has even been shared by others; I will spare the readership further crude remarks.

It seems to me that Mr. Felix is not bothered one bit about his actions being perceived as offensive to women, or his caption as offensive to central casries women. After all, that viewpoint is unlikely to result in political repercussions for him anyway! There were several missed opportunities for Stanley Felix to refrain from posting or delete the posted photograph;

-when he initially posted it; what was he shaking his head at? He must’ve noticed something about the photograph was off.

-when the picture drew sexually slanted comments.

-when the picture began being shared by others.

– when those shared pictures drew fierce debate about the appropriateness of the picture.

 Hey, Stanley Felix, can you handle getting though this election season without sexually objectifying women?

 

 

 

International Women’s Day 2016

Tomorrow, March 8th, is recognised as International Women’s Day. The United Nation’s official theme this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” It is based on sustainable development goal number 5 – to achieve gender equality and empower women across the globe by 2030. Our progress as women should not blind us to the struggles women face around the world, especially in underdeveloped nations. There is also another campaign theme; “Pledge for Parity.” It is a call for all of us to do whatever is within our power to close the gender gap, promote gender equality and empower women in our communities and around the world.

When I think of the state of Women’s rights in Saint Lucia, I am proud to say that some of the factors which block the entry of women into the workforce have been eliminated. In particular, the advent of Universal Secondary Education (USE) ensures that all girls have full and equal access to secondary school education. The vocational courses offered by the NSDC have also been an excellent avenue for certification in areas such as cooking and nail design for young ladies who are so inclined. I am also encouraged by the number of women who are now entering traditionally male dominated fields such as science and engineering. Likewise, the high number of female managers in Saint Lucian businesses, and the fact that there are currently three sitting female parliamentarians (one of whom is the opposition leader) is inspiring. Last week the Director of Gender Relations stated that she had received unofficial reports of cases of gender-based pay disparities. However, she indicated that equal pay for equal work was indeed the general practice in Saint Lucia. Excellent news! Despite these advances in access to education and equality in the workplace there are other important issues which affect the social standing of Saint Lucian women.

Many researchers have conveyed that Caribbean women are more likely to be single parents than other groups. More resources should be poured into supporting these mothers and programs that foster their economic empowerment. The SMILE (Single Mothers in Life Empowerment) program was a project which successfully targeted marginalised single mothers and provided them with educational and work opportunities. Additional programs that follow this model are well needed. In farming communities, micro-financing can also be used fund agricultural projects taken up by single mothers to improve their livelihoods.

More rigorous social campaigns are also needed to offset the proliferation of the abuse of women in our communities. It is essential for law enforcement and the family court to co-ordinate activities aimed at protecting female victims of domestic abuse more efficiently. This is also true for victims of rape. The current increase in the reports of violent rapes committed against women is very disturbing. This has generated much anxiety amongst Saint Lucian women and I would like to see the police provided with all the resources needed to solve rape cases swiftly. We must also tackle the problems that affect the speed of our justice system in prosecuting alleged rapists. These efforts have to be backed up by stiffer penalties for convicted rapists or else they will be futile. I know of rape trauma counselling being provided to some rape victims and this is definitely a step in the right direction. Aftercare services are essential for victims.

Personally, my anxiety is further heightened by the relentless cat-calling, taunts and threats that come my way on a daily basis walking the streets. I can only equate some of the things I have experienced to sexual harassment and assault. There are some corners in this country where this sort of threatening activity is rampant. Our girls are particularly vulnerable because many of them must pass through these areas on their way to and from school. I am asking for intensified community policing around popular “blocks” where this sort of activity takes place. We must all do what we can to stunt the growth of rape culture in our society.

There are two somewhat controversial rights issues I would like to address this International Women’s Day. Firstly, the conditional legalisation of abortion in Saint Lucia has put the health of many women at risk. The dangerous black market for abortions needs to be dismantled and avenues should be open for all women who choose to have abortions to do so safely. Abortion may not a choice that some of us would make and it may also go against some of our religious beliefs. Nevertheless, we must all respect every woman’s choice and right to have full autonomy over her own body. I must also highlight the plight of our sisters in the LGBT community. Their basic human right not to be discriminated against based on their sexual preference or gender identity is not protected by the Saint Lucian constitution. This is a grave injustice that any unbiased and impartial government would correct immediately.

Yes, we still have work left to do for the advancement and improvement of the lives of women in Saint Lucia. However, we must also reflect and celebrate how far we’ve come. This International Women’s Day I celebrate the strength, endurance, ingenuity, uniqueness and versatility of all women. I honour all Saint Lucian women who have made significant strides, and who continue to motivate and inspire others to realise their own success. Please do go to http://www.internationalwomansday.comPledge to make a pledge today. I pledged to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. Happy International Women’s Day to all!

Freedom of Expression & the Upcoming General Elections: Tolerance Please!!!

I was recently banned from the Facebook group St.Lucians Aiming for Progress (SLaP-see what I did there?) for simply standing up against personal attacks on another outspoken but respectful member, who was also unceremoniously banned. The next order of the day for the all-powerful SLAP dictatorship was to emphatically endorse the sitting Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) (with which the SLAP has no official connection). The other banned member overtly supports the SLP and I am “SLP-leaning”. Therefore, I am even more concerned about the possible fate of a dissenting UWP/LPM supporter in any forum where the “person in charge” is an overzealous SLP supporter.

These limitations on the freedom of expression are unfortunately intrinsic to the rules that govern how Facebook groups operate. All potential efforts by Saint Lucians to organise and influence by setting up social media groups are threatened because of the arbitrary power group admins tend to hold across social media platforms. Write a letter to Facebook you say? Maybe so, but I say that this kind of brashness from SLP, or any other party’s agents should be discouraged! What is to stop extreme forms of censorship and discrimination from extending to local media outlets or state institutions? Will we wait for threats to be made against families and livelihoods before we realise that the right to speak up and speak out must be vehemently protected? Honestly, the current atmosphere in Saint Lucia is already too thick with political rivalry, and an appalling level of intolerance.

Indeed, this small incident is only the first in line of a series of roadblocks I expect to be confronted with as I move forward with my career. However, I do not view this as a shiny badge of honour, it is an eerie sign. The Freedom of Association goes hand-in-hand with the Freedom of Expression. As we enter into the upcoming election season let us respect each other’s right to align ourselves with our political party of preference and vote for our candidate of choice. Let us continue to share and express our views on the issues that affect us as ALL as a society. Remember, we must also practice tolerance when the views of others do not exactly match those that we hold. Onwards and Forwards…